Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Grant Wahl Interviews Sunil Gulati: Welcome to the Real World

Sports Illustrated has posted an valuable interview with Sunil Gulati, president of US Soccer and newly elected representative of CONCACAF to the FIFA Executive Committee. In the interview Grant Wahl asked lots of questions about FIFA governance.  Here are some excerpts and my commentary.

It is interesting to learn the amount of information that Gulati did not have. For instance, here are some examples excerpted from the interview:
Wahl: [Which] FIFA committees are you on right now?
Gulati: I don't know yet. That's to be determined

Wahl: You're unpaid in your position as U.S. Soccer president. You will be paid as a member of the FIFA Executive Committee. How much?
Gulati: Formally, I haven't been told that yet. I'm sure I'll find out in the weeks to come and I'll find out the rules and regulations about disclosure.

Wahl: Is there a specific FIFA policy that prohibits disclosure?
Gulati: I've asked that question and I don't know the answer to that.

Wahl: Do you know how much Blatter receives in compensation?
Gulati: No.

Wahl: Should members of the FIFA ExCo know such a thing?
Gulati: I'm sure some members of the FIFA ExCo do. I don't.
Gulati explained what it means to be on the ExCo:
Gulati: What does [the FIFA ExCo spot] mean? It's a seat at the table of essentially the board of directors of the body that governs soccer throughout the world. So whether it's discussions about the long-term growth of the game or changes to the laws of the game, which eventually go to the IFAB, or the use of funds from the World Cup and how those are divvied up, development funds, all those things. It's a normal board of directors, so having a voice there is certainly positive.
A member of a board of directors ought to know many of the things that Gulati does not, so hopefully Wahl or other reporters will follow up with many of these same questions in the fall.
Wahl asked Gulati about the recent CONCACAF Integrity report, and the limited answer provided by Gulati suggests that he was without much information at all about CONCACAF governance in recent years as a member of its Executive Committee:<
Wahl: The CONCACAF Integrity Report came out and there were some staggering examples of improper behavior by former leaders Chuck Blazer and Jack Warner in the report. You served on the CONCACAF Executive Committee during their time in power. Were you aware of their activities in that report?
Gulati: The answer is no.

Wahl: There was good journalism done — admittedly not enough by me, but by others — revealing improper behavior that ended up in that Integrity Report. Do you feel like you should have done more?
Gulati: There are two things. One can always say one should do more in certain situations. But secondly, and more importantly, in the midst of various legal proceedings, I'm not going to talk about this. I'm not involved in any legal proceedings, but I think it would be inappropriate to say very much about that given FIFA proceedings and other potential proceedings.

Wahl: Are we looking at FBI and IRS investigations into Blazer and Warner, as has been reported?
Gulati: Given various proceedings, I'm not going to comment on anything else here.
It is of course fair enough and to be expected that Gulati does not want to discuss the issues associated with corruption in CONCACAF. However, it is remarkable that as a member of the CONCACAF Executive Committee (that organization's "board of directors") Gulati was completely unaware of the finances of the organization -- which as we have learned were often co-mingled with the personal finances of Jack Warner an Chuck Blazer. 

Recall that Blazer and Warner appropriated approximately $88 million of football funds for personal use. How does that go unnoticed by the CONCACAF Board? Should a member of the CONCACAF ExCo have known more? I would expect that Gulati will face -- appropriately so -- further questions about what he did and did not know, from the media and various investigators.

Wahl asked Gulati about his views on the FIFA reform process and the criticisms that former FIFA IGC member Alexandra Wrage made about the process (she ultimately resigned from the committee in April):
Wahl: You just got back from the FIFA congress in Mauritius. How would you grade the FIFA reform process and what it's accomplished so far?

Gulati: Well, since what I do for a living is grade students, I'd say incomplete. What's been done up to now, I think, is a long way toward addressing some of the issues, but I think more needs to be done. So setting up independent chambers on the ethics panel for adjudicating and investigating, that's a big plus. Setting up the external audit and compliance group under Domenico Scala is a great advance. And the people that are in charge of those three groups, from everything I've seen, read and witnessed and talked with them about, are highly qualified and highly professional. That's a big plus.

The rewriting of the ethics code is a big plus. It's pretty clear what's happened the last few years with seven, eight, nine people who've left the ExCo either by their own decision or by formal investigation or some combination of both. That doesn't happen if people are just saying let's forget about the past and move on. Some of those things happened a long time ago. Under the new code of ethics they can be investigated and disciplined for that. Those are all pluses.

There are any number of other things, in terms of the funding of programs, the audit and compliance area, the transparency of funding development projects, external bids within the general area of finance the whole bidding process has changed. I'm not talking about the World Cup bidding process, but the bidding process for contracts with FIFA for business.

The changes are incomplete in my view on the World Cup [host] decision-making. The only formal decision to be made so far is the final decision will be made by 209 countries.

Wahl: Alexandra Wrage resigned from the IGC and had a very public critique of the IGC's work. Do you think her criticism was off the mark?
Gulati: I don't agree with Alexandra's comments. I think much was accomplished in the process and much still needs to be done. To the extent she believes other things still need to be done, that's fine. To the extent she believes the 18 months didn't accomplish anything, I think that's off the mark. Frankly, I think [her criticism] was unfair to the three people that are now in charge of the adjudication, investigation and audit/compliance [bodies], all of whom to me are highly qualified, highly independent and have done from what I've seen so far a commendable job on the issues.
Gulati's optimistic view of the reform process jibes with FIFA's own view, but is hard to square with an objective evaluation.

Finally, one of Gulati's comments was revealing for what it says about how those who govern football view the world. When Wahl asked Gulati about US support for Blatter in the 2011 FIFA election, noting that he was the only one on the ballot. Gulati replied:
Gulati: [F]rankly I'm not sure what world you live in. I live in the real world.
At some point Sunil Gulati will have to choose between the red pill and the blue pill. He is not quite there yet. As Morpheus tells Neo in The Matrix, "Welcome to the real world."


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